Friday, May 17, 2013

Michelle Obama at Bowie State: Too many fantasize about being ‘a baller or a rapper’

Michelle Obama encouraged the graduates of Bowie State University on Friday morning to live up to the legacy of their university’s founders and the leaders of the civil rights movement by promoting the importance of education in the black community. “Just think about this for a moment — for generations, in many parts of this country, it was illegal for black people to get an education,” Obama told the predominantly black crowd, referring to the period in which Bowie State was founded. “Slaves caught reading or writing could be beaten within an inch of their lives.” The creation of the small school that eventually became Bowie State University was an “eloquent act of defiance,” she told the crowd of about 600 graduates and several thousand of their supporters at the Comcast Center in College Park. Obama encouraged the students to keep a hunger to learn, quoting abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said education “means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free.” The first lady received thunderous applause from several thousand people attending the ceremony in a state that voted overwhelmingly for her husband. It was an intensely friendly and excited crowd — with shouts of congratulations to individual graduates from the crowd, along with calls of “Michelle! We love you!” and a standing ovation that began before she spoke a word. In the second of three commencement addresses the first lady will give this month, she also called on the graduates to push other African Americans to pursue higher education. Too often, she said, young African Americans “can’t be bothered.” “Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper,” she said. “Please reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white,” Obama said. “In short, be an example of excellence for the next generation.” BSU awarded Michelle Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School, with an honorary doctorate of laws. It also recognized Valerie Simpson and her late husband Nickolas Ashford, who made up the songwriting team known as Ashford & Simpson, giving Simpson an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Obama’s 21-minute address did not mention the political or policy issues that are at the forefront of her husband’s administration. She stuck to the historical arc of African Americans in the nation and the need to increase the number who graduate from high school and college. Senior Ariel Williams-Edwards of Baltimore was one of two students whom Obama mentioned from the dais as examples of beating the odds. Williams-Edwards is an honors student who achieved despite family challenges, including a parent who struggled with substance abuse. “She’s such a positive figure,” said Williams-Edwards, who described herself as overwhelmed at being singled out by Obama. “She stressed for blacks how important learning is and how young individuals need to stay focused. It was a significant message.” President Obama has spoken at Bowie State twice — once as a candidate, according to university spokeswoman Damita Chambers. But it was the first time a sitting first lady has given a commencement speech here. The occasion also marked the first time Bowie State has held its graduation ceremony away from the historically black university’s campus. Some of the school’s alumni had argued against the move to the Comcast Center on the campus of the University in Maryland in College Park because of the historical relationship between the universities, the school’s student newspaper reported. Black students were once barred from the flagship institution. The president and first lady have spoken at several historically black colleges and universities during their time in the White House. In years past, Michelle Obama delivered commencement speeches at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Spelman College and North Carolina A&T. Her husband will speak at the Morehouse College graduation ceremony this month

President Obama Surprises Moravia Park Elementary School

While Friday’s speech came with plenty of advance notice, the president’s first stop in Baltimore was planned as a surprise. As Alex DeMetrick explains, students and parents at Moravia Park Primary School did not see it coming. President Obama landed in a field in Northeast Baltimore at about 11:30 a.m. The White House asked his destination be kept a secret to a Pre-K class at Moravia Park Primary School. The point was to make this a surprise visit for the children. Students were excited when they caught a glimpse of the president. “It was surprising to see the president in my school,” said one student. “It was a nice experience to see Barack Obama,” said Cameron. The same student also said he forgot what the president had talked about. But what the Obama administration doesn’t want forgotten is early childhood education.It’s on the president’s agenda and a specialty of this school. “Extremely large elementary population, along with an early childhood population. So I think they wanted to take a look at a program that’s been in existence. We have the first Judy program in Baltimore City Schools,” said Assistant Principal William Allen. It wasn’t until school was over that parents learned of the president’s visit. “It was really shocking. Happy at the same time,” said parent Tiny Allen. But word quickly spread along the motorcade route. “We watched the cars come in and Barack waved to us, so I got some good pictures,” said Brenda. “I have camera footage of him coming in in the line and pictures. Yep, definitely a memory for me,” said parent Andreia Green. Certainly not your usual day at school. The president also left a souvenir: his drawing of a tiger for the class.

Bahrain forces raid home of top Shiite cleric
Bahrain's main opposition on Friday accused government troops of raiding the home of the country's leading Shiite cleric, and warned that authorities will bear responsibility for this "dangerous" act. The Shiite Al-Wefaq movement levelled the accusations in a statement and distributed pictures of what it said was damage caused at the home of Ayatollah Issa Qassem in the town of Diraz, west of Manama. There was no immediate confirmation from the Sunni-ruled government of Bahrain -- home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. "Dozens of armed troops, accompanied by masked civilian forces, stormed the home of Ayatollah Issa Qassem at dawn on Friday... damaging property and terrorising women and children," Al-Wefaq said in its statement. Qassem was not at home at the time of the raid, Al-Wefaq said, adding that government forces gave no reason for the operation. "The Bahraini regime... will bear full responsibility for this dangerous act," it said. Qassem is know for his support of protesters who have been waging demonstrations against the ruling Sunni monarchy in Shiite-majority Bahrain since February 2011. A total of 80 people have been killed since the protests erupted, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

Lavrov on Russia’s weapons supplies to Syria

Russia’s weapons supplies to Syria are fully in compliance with the law and do not give the government troops any advantage over the rebels, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said commenting on the hype in Western media. “I don’t understand why mass media are trying to make a sensation out of the fact. We do not conceal it that we supply weapons to Syria according to signed contracts, violating neither any international agreements, nor our own weapon export control legislation, one of the strictest in the world,” Lavrov said at a press conference on Friday. He stressed all of the weapons supplied are in fact air defense systems, and thus cannot impact the existing power balance between the Assad forces and the rebels. Lavrov’s remark comes in response to the recent uproar in the media, concerning Russia’s allegedly sending Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria and earlier reports on supplies of S-300 anti-missile systems, which are capable of intercepting ballistic targets. Later in the day US State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki also stated that Washington has no information regarding the reported supplies of anti-ship cruise missiles.Russia has underlined on numerous occasions any supplies to Syria are according to old contracts, many of which are Soviet-era, the supplied weapons are missile-defense ones and after completing these contracts no new deals are planned.The Russian FM commented on Russia’s weapons supplies at a press-conference following his talks with the UN chief. The Syrian crisis dominated the agenda of the meeting, which is part of a recent flurry of diplomatic efforts to end the violence in the country, preceded by Vladimir Putin holding similar talks with worlds’ top officials, including the US secretary of state and the British and Israeli leaders. Eventually, a joint initiative was authored by Moscow and Washington to hold peace conference on Syria, planned for June. Before the conference happens though, both the US and Russia have several stumbling blocks to overcome, such as divisions inside the Syrian opposition, making it unclear who exactly can represent it at the conference, and harsh preconditions set by the rebels. “ In contrast to the Syrian government, which has responded quite positively to the Russian-American initiative, the opposition's answer was quite vague. They said that they welcome any initiatives that will help to stop the violence, but before that Assad must go - reiterating their stance, which has been the cause of the deadlock for many months, ” said Lavrov on Thursday in an interview to Al Mayadeen. As for the US it is expected to object to Iran’s participation, on which Moscow insists.Another thing is that when Western leaders are talking to Russia they seem to be on the same page with Moscow’s position, agreeing on the need for negotiating peace, but as soon as they leave, they are once again calling for Assad to step down and promise increasing support to the rebels. The UK and France have become increasingly vocal in their calls to supply the insurgent groups with arms. British and French efforts at lifting the EU embargo on Syria are however strongly opposed by Austria, showing a divide on the issue in Europe. Meanwhile, the situation in Syria aggravates with more reports of atrocities on both sides of the conflict. Human Rights Watch has issued a report providing evidence of torture used in a government prison in the city of Raqqa, in eastern Syria. Human rights activists were allowed by opposition forces who gained control of the city to examine the facility. A shocking video from the same city, released this week shows three men from the government troops being publicly executed by rebels in the city square. The killings have been confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. And the episode added up to a series of reports on atrocities performed by the rebels, which emerged this week. Earlier, another YouTube video was posted showing fighters of the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front in Syria executing 11 government soldiers. Still earlier this week another shocking video was released featuring a Syrian rebel eating a lung of a slain government soldier in what the insurgent described as an act of revenge. Growing evidence of atrocities committed by rebel groups, however did not prevent the UN from voting for a resolution condemning Assad and praising the opposition. Russia voted against the document, describing it as one-sided. Russia still urges all of the sides to resolve the crisis by negotiations, something Lavrov reiterated on Friday, saying a peace conference should be held “the sooner the better.” He was echoed by Ban Ki-moon’s call to “not lose the momentum.”

Saudi Arabia: Women Banned from Switching on 'Immoral' Air Condtioning by Islamic Cleric
A man identified on Twitter as Abul Ala and claiming to be a Salafist-Wahhabist cleric, has decreed women should not turn on air conditioners or coolers at home, in the absence of their husbands. According to the Iran-based Al-Alam news network the cleric is alleged to have decreed: "turning on the cooler ventilator is prohibited for women in the absence of their husbands" because "the woman's act is very dangerous, and may bring about immorality in the society. When she turns the cooler on, someone may notice her presence home, and this might bring about immorality". The news report also stated Salafist-Wahhabist clerics "have a distorted reading of Islam" and their decrees are "incompatible with common sense". Salafist and Wahhabist ideologies are considered to be ultra-conservative branches among Sunni Muslims and such kinds of bizarre decrees and Fatwas (a ruling on a point of Islamic law) coming from clerics belonging to these sects are not uncommon.In April, a Salafist cleric called Sheikh Yasir al-Ajlawni posted a YouTube video claiming the rape of non-Sunni and non-Muslim women was acceptable by the Koran's standards. He was referring to rebel fighters in the ongoing Syrian conflict. He claimed: "legitimate fatwa for Muslims waging war against Mr. Assad and trying to put in place a Sharia government to capture and have sex with Alawites and other non-Sunni, non-Muslim women"

Cruel Act: ''Saudi Arabia Punishes Two Christians for Converting Coworker''
The new price of being a Christian in Saudi Arabia? For one Lebanese man, it's six years in jail and 300 lashes. A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a Lebanese Christian, as well as a Saudi Christian, to prison time and lashings as punishment for encouraging the conversion of a younger, female Saudi coworker. Following her conversion, the woman escaped Saudi Arabia to Sweden with the men's help. AsiaNews reports that the case arose last year after the men gave the woman religious books and later were arrested on charges of forced conversion. The Lebanese man, who was "considered the organizer of the operation, was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes. The Saudi was charged as an accomplice and sentenced to two years and 200 lashes. Both worked with the girl in an insurance company. The two have announced an appeal," according to AsiaNews. The woman's identity still has not been released, and Reuters reports that she remains in Sweden, where she was granted religious asylum last year.

PPP won’t allow any other party’s CM in Sindh

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) would not allow any other party’s chief minister in Sindh, as PPP holds strong position for the formation of Sindh government, said the scores of leaders of the party addressing press conferences here, Geo News reported on Friday. However, the leaders differed on what should be the criteria for choosing a Sindh chief minister from within the party, some left the decision on the party leadership, while the others wished he should be young instead of the old one. PPP during the last five years appeared to have one voice, but now it seems to be a little disintegrated. Taking the lead in holding hosts of PPP news conferences here, Former Sindh information minister, Sharjeel Memon said that since PPP holding the majority the CM would also be from his party. Former chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah along with Owais Muzaffar and several other leaders in a subsequent press conference said that the their party has reservations on the Punjab elections’ results, but has accepted it for the democracy. Later PPP leader known for his day dreaming, Manzoor Wasan couldn’t hold himself back on seeing the flashing cameras stood up and disclosed that BB Shaheed came in his dream and told him that now Sindh would witness good governance and the CM would not be old one, but young. PPP veteran N.D. Khan and Taj Haider also rushed in to join the melee along with Shazia Murree and said that several letters were written to the Election Commission, but none was heeded to. PPP won 80 seats, but efforts afoot to bring this number down.

Fearing Afghanistan instability, Russia mulls border troops

Russia, predicting instability once NATO-led troops withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year, is considering deploying border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border, Moscow's envoy to Kabul told Reuters in an interview. Moscow, still sore from its disastrous, decade-long war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, is increasingly concerned by what it describes as the combined threat of narcotics and terrorism reaching Russia through former Soviet Central Asian countries."We prefer to tackle this problem on the Afghan border to stop these threats," Andrey Avetisyan said late on Thursday in the Russian embassy in Kabul. Its sprawling grounds host a Soviet-built teal Volga car recovered in Afghanistan by embassy staff and a memorial to the 15,000 Soviet lives lost in the war against mujahideen fighters. "We used to have a serious presence on the Afghan-Tajik border and, at that time, the situation there was much better, so it would be in the interest of both Russia and Tajikistan and even Afghanistan if Russia is present there," he said. Avetisyan said such a presence would involve Russian border troops, but declined to give a number. Russian border guards used to patrol the Tajik frontier with Afghanistan but left in 2005, ending a Soviet-era legacy and handing all power over to local authorities. Ex-Soviet Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan also border Afghanistan to its north. Avetisyan said any agreement on border troop deployment would "of course" have to be agreed upon with Tajikistan. Intensifying violence across Afghanistan, less than two years before foreign combat troops withdraw, has sent tremors of worry across Russia, which is battling an Islamist insurgency in its North Caucasus as well as widespread use of heroin and a huge increase in the incidence of HIV and AIDS. Russia is involved in a series of ambitious construction projects in Afghanistan, including rebuilding its Soviet-era cultural centre, aimed at fostering stability in the country which produces 90 percent of the world's opium. Avetisyan, who also worked for the Soviet government in Kabul during Moscow's war, said fighting in northern Afghanistan -- traditional bastions of anti-Taliban power groups -- offers proof of a "general destabilisation of the situation". COMPARISONS WITH SOVIET CAMPAIGN Comparisons are being increasingly drawn between the Soviet and NATO-led wars, and the Taliban have repeatedly warned Washington that it will encounter the same fate met by Moscow. After the dispirited Soviet exit in 1989, the Afghan communist government collapsed, leading to infighting between warlords and a civil war that reduced much of Kabul to rubble and paved the way for the Taliban's rise to power in 1996. "What have they been doing for the past 12 years?" Avetisyan asked of the current campaign, America's longest war. "Fighting against terrorism with 150,000 troops without any success," he said, adding that a continued troop presence after 2014 "doesn't make any sense". U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to soon announce how many combat troops Washington will leave after the withdrawal. Many Afghans are eager to know the size of the post-2014 force, fearing chaos and civil war could erupt with no foreign presence. The United States is widely expected to retain nine bases across Afghanistan after 2014, NATO officials said after Afghan President Hamid Karzai revealed the plan this month. But Avetisyan said any future U.S. military role in the country must be an international legal arrangement approved by the United Nations Security Council, in which Russia has veto power. "A long-term or permanent military presence of a foreign force will be a reason of concern for us, especially if they are military bases. We would like to know what the purpose is and we still don't have answers to these questions," he said.

Karzai for Indian arms, stronger military ties

As plans to reduce Western troops gather pace in Afghanistan, the war-torn country on Thursday hoped to establish enhanced defence ties with India, including the supply of lethal and non-lethal military equipment. Kabul’s demand also comes just ahead of President Hamid Karzai will visit to India next week from May 21-22. Asked about what kind of defence assistance Afghanistan was looking to get from India, Afghanistan’s ambassador to India Shaida Mohammad Abdali said, “The partnership agreement does not distinguish between lethal and non-lethal (military equipment). We have talked about security and defence cooperation.” Abdali also talked about interest in Indian Army training for troops. “Other assistance in small stages is most welcome... but we would like to go beyond the current trend of cooperation between the two countries in the defence sector,” he added. At present, India provides training to some Afghan Army officers. Pakistan has been wary of India’s role in Afghanistan and any move to step up defence ties would add to scepticism. This demand is also coming at a time, when Pakistan-Afghanistan ties are frayed. India has followed a policy of keeping the military engagement to a minimum with Afghanistan in the past. “It is a critical time for all of us and we need to do more than what we are doing right now,” he said. The Afghan envoy also welcomed India’s recent commitment of upgrading the strategically important Chabahar port in Iran that would help India get access to land-locked and resource- rich countries. An estimated $100 million (approximately R548.7 crore) is required for the modernisation of the port. “We would like to see the conclusion of the agreement on the Chabahar port,” Abdali said. “We are very happy that this is gathering momentum. We hope that we sign the trilateral trade agreement among India, Afghanistan and Iran as quickly as possible. We are optimistic after Indian external affairs minister Salman Khurshid’s visit to Iran.” Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) special representative for Afghanistan Vygaudas Ušackas, who is presently visiting India, also sought Indian government’s active cooperation in the development of the country. Ušackas said the EU is committed to long-term association with the development of the region, which became centre of US’ ‘War on Terrorism’ after the September 11, 2001, attacks there.

Grim realities Poll concerns in Balochistan

AWAY from the media spotlight, the troubles in Balochistan have continued to grow more complex with a disputed election result creating yet more uncertainty in the province. The PML-N, the Pakhtun-orientated PkMAP, the Baloch-nationalist NP and the conservative JUI-F appear set to form the provincial government, but cries of electoral malpractices continue to echo through much of the Baloch areas of the province. The BNP-M and its leader Akhtar Mengal have complained the loudest about a ‘stolen election’ — and embedded in their allegations is more than a kernel of truth. With a dismal turnout — in some areas, no votes were cast because security fears meant polling staff did not turn up for election day duties — and given the pre-election concerns and post-election complaints about an opaque counting process riven with problems, the elections in Balochistan cannot realistically be thought of as free or fair. However — in the Balochistan context there is often a however — there are lessons here for the nationalist Baloch parties too. Yes, Mr Mengal and his BNP-M have contested elections in a hostile environment, but perhaps a case can also be made that the party has grown disconnected from its voters. The National Party, the other moderate nationalist Baloch party, fared comparatively better but the NP’s results too were not stellar. The great unknown before this election was whether the moderate Baloch parties’ claims of enjoying significant support in Balochistan were true or not. Because of the circumstances of the elections in the province, that question cannot be answered conclusively or with much confidence. But, there are enough clues to suggest that the nationalist parties may have failed to keep the people on their side, particularly in the case of the BNP-M whose on-ground organisation and network in the province has declined significantly in recent years — something the party will blame on the security situation. But could the low turnout also be because the nationalists, whether out of fear or marginal sympathy, have not challenged the separatist rhetoric and propaganda, meaning that much public space has been ceded to the insurgents? Grim as the situation in Balochistan is, the focus after an election should be on how to use freshly acquired political capital to improve the province’s security plight. With a strong PML-N government in the centre also in the coalition in Balochistan and with nationalist input in the provincial government, a way forward can be cobbled together. Legitimate electoral complaints aside, Balochistan’s politicians should also focus on the opportunity before them.

Video: Clash between two groups of Imran's PTI

Clash between two groups of PTI against joining... by AsiaNewsObserver

PML-N’s ‘strongman’ Nisar loses to PTI in recount

Daily Times
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan lost to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf candidate Siddiqui Khan in the recount of votes for PP-7, Rawalpindi constituency of the Punjab Assembly over rigging claims. In the earlier result, Nisar was declared winner by a small margin. Siddiqui filed an application with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for a vote recount. After recounting of votes of six polling stations of the provincial assembly constituency, Nisar was defeated by a thin margin. The counting was done in the presence of neutral lawyers and media persons. This development has further strengthened the PTI demand for re-polling in constituencies where discrepancies were recorded in the polling process. In initial counting of votes, Chaudhry Nisar got a lead of 614 votes and won the seat. Meanwhile, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan on Thursday termed the allegations of rigging in elections as baseless, arguing that international observers have declared them free, fair and transparent. Talking to media, he said, “It is unfortunate that international observers and foreign countries are congratulating Pakistan for holding free, fair and transparent elections but we are doubting its credibility.” He said US President Barack Obama and other international leaders have congratulated Pakistan for holding elections and wanted to improve friendly ties. He said the commission had received 110 complaints of rigging during the last three days and after summary, inquiry orders have been issued for re-polling wherever it was necessary. He said election tribunals were now bound to dispose of complaints and petitions within 120 days. The secretary said ECP was empowered to open bags containing ballots, go for recounting and verify thumb impressions of voters. To a question, he said first there had been rumours that elections would not be held on time or there would be violence on the polling day but everything was done peacefully. He said that according to law, the president was bound to summon National Assembly session within 21 days and it was expected that the first session of the House would be held on June 1. To a question, he said thumb impressions would be validated if commission considered necessary after the inquiry. About Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) claims of 100 percent plus turnout in some specific constituencies, he said, turnout in those constituencies was 42 percent and 74 percent. Also, the election commission on Thursday asked the independent candidates to join a political party within three days of the publication of winners’ names in official gazette. “The independent returned candidates are required to apply, after notification to the leader of the political party for joining his party and the leader of the political party forthwith is required to inform the election commission of his joining through a letter to be delivered to the election commission in terms of sub-rule (5) of rule 3 of the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies Allocation of Reserved Seats for Women and non-Muslims (Procedure) Rules, 2002” said a notification issued by the ECP. The ECP secretary quoted sub-clause (d) of Clause (6) of Article 51 of the constitution, which provides that the members to fill seats reserved for women which are allocated to a province shall be elected through proportional representation system of political parties’ lists of candidates on the basis of total number of general seats won by each political party from the province concerned in the National Assembly.